Improve your snare sound without having to spend hundreds on a new drum.
If you’ve got a cheaper (or older) snare drum, there are a few things you can do to tighten up the sound without needing to spend too much. Besides getting a new drumhead or adding dampening, see below for some of the options available to modify and improve your sound.
Snare wire upgrades
Cheap snare wires can rattle and buzz excessively, especially if they’re made with low-grade material or are not straight. Old snare wires can be loose, dull, or broken. Changing your snare wires will help control snare buzz, and can also improve the sound. There are a lot of different options – the number of wires, wire thickness, wire placement, and wire material will all play a role in your sound. 20-strand snare wires are most common. Less strands will mean less snare “snap” and less snare buzz – think about the amount of snare wire snap you want in relation to the amount of drum sound you want to hear. Thinner and lighter wires will be more sensitive (and also quieter) – if you’re playing very loud music you may want to consider heavier or thicker wires. Lighter and softer music calls for thinner and more sensitive snare wires. Snare wires are also available with the middle strands missing – this gives a dryer sound and will also reduce the amount of resonant snare buzz when other drums are hit – try these if you want to reduce sympathetic snare buzz.
Snare throwoff upgrades
A snare throwoff (also sometimes called a strainer) holds the snare wires in places and gives you control over their tension. Upgrading a cheap throwoff will give you much more control over snare wire tension, and allow for smoother and more even transitions. Tight tension gives a focused quick snap (and will also choke the resonance of the resonant drumhead), while medium and lower tensions allow for a nice fat or deeper punch with more buzz. Snare drums usually have one or two sweet spots on the throwoff where the snares give a thicker, fatter response. Having a good quality throwoff will allow you to achieve the sound you want. Most drum throwoff upgrades are designed to fit almost all snare drums (double-check the new throwoff’s screw placement matches your old one).
Lug and tuning rod upgrades
If your tuning rods get stuck, are hard to turn, or are rusty, you’ll have a harder time getting consistent and even tuning. Before buying new parts, try using a lubricant to solve the problem. Use spray on grease, or a small amount of oil or vaseline to coat each tuning rod. If the problem persists (or if you want a cosmetic upgrade), you can buy new lugs and tuning rods. You’ll usually find the exact measurements and screw placements of lugs before buying them (check, for example, on the Amazon product page) – compare these to your own drum to make sure they will fit. Generally, the less contact each lug makes with the drum shell, the more the shell will be able to resonate. Smaller and lighter lugs will allow for the most resonance, while thick and heavy lugs will reduce the drum shell’s natural vibrations (choking the sound a little). Another quick and cheap upgrade is nylon or plastic tension rod sleeves (or washers) – these will remove metal-on-metal contact, make tuning smoother, and will stop your tuning rods from slowly coming loose when you play.
There are three main types of drum hoops: die-cast, triple flanged, and wood hoops. Each gives a slightly different feel and sound. Compared to triple flanged hoops, die-cast hoops are much more solid, and will reduce ringing and overtones when the drum is hit. Die-cast hoops are more suited to loud environments where big rim shots are used, while triple flanged hoops allow for lighter and more sensitive strokes to stand out and will give a more open sound. Wooden hoops are more delicate and can be damaged with heavier playing, but they are popular because they reduce some of the brighter tones compared to die-cast or triple flanged hoops (and also look great). Before buying new hoops, double-check whether you’re getting a batter or resonant side hoop (resonant snare side hoops usually have a cut-out for the snare wire straps; on toms or bass drums this is not an issue). Also check the number of holes you’ll need for tuning rods to pass through.